BWW Interviews: Stark Naked Theatre Creatives Talk A MIDSUMMER NIGHT's DREAM
This March Stark Naked Theatre presents A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. MIDSUMMER is a William Shakespeare comedy concerning four lovers forced into a forest of enchantment. An alternate synopsis suggested by Luis Galindo, who acts as Theseus and Oberon in the production, is "[s]ex joke. Profound philosophical statement. Sex joke. Sex joke. Marriage." Sex jokes aside, in true Stark Naked Theatre fashion, this production will lean on the text. Galindo and artistic directors Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin-Lehl believe that human relationships are of the utmost importance in theatre and that no one does it better than Shakespeare. In this interview, I talk to Lehl, Tobin-Lehl, and Galindo who will bring a pared down rendition of this philosophical epic peppered with sex jokes to the stage.
BWW: Why is Shakespeare such a favorite playwright for your company? Beyond the obvious reasons like being one of the greatest writers of all time.
Philip Lehl: Do you need another reason besides that? [Everyone Laughs]
Kim Tobin-Lehl: I think one of the things I like about Shakespeare is that nobody writes heightened circumstances like Shakespeare. He puts people in the most desperate situations, and at the top of their lives and at the worst of their lives better than anybody else. Putting them in situations where they're fighting for something in the most beautiful and the most insane ways that you can find. He's eloquent and funny in a manner that no one else seems to do quite as well.
Philip Lehl: I'm going to answer it very personally. I saw my first Shakespeare play when I was about ten-years-old, and I've been fascinated with him since then. I keep coming back to him to sort of measure myself against him, and I always come up short, so I keep coming back again and again.
BWW: Luis, do you have any personal connection to Shakespeare?
Luis Galindo: I've dedicated the last ten years of my life to doing these plays and teaching Shakespeare. I agree with what both Kim and Phillip have said. I don't think there is anybody who's ever come close to expressing how human beings behave with one another better than this guy. No one's said it more beautifully and eloquently. He knows our basest nature and our most divine, graceful nature. I think he travels the map of the human being from the primordial ooze to God about better than anyone ever has. And it's been 400 years and we haven't laid a glove on him.
That's not to say I put it on a pedestal too much, because I know the truth. Here's how I explain how a comedy goes to my students: Sex joke. Sex joke. Sex joke. Sex joke. Profound philosophical statement. Sex joke. Sex joke. Sex joke. Marriage. [Everyone Laughs] The same goes for tragedy except, at the end, there's death.
BWW: Do you ever find it daunting to put yourself in the shoes of characters that are so richly made?
Luis Galindo: Absolutely. I played this role three years ago, and I am still digging and mining things I missed completely before. I thought that I had a decent handle on it, and it turns out I have only scratched the surface. But I feel like this with every role. I did the Scottish Play [Macbeth] about two years ago, and I bring everything I have to try to fill the words with the circumstances and with intent and meaning. But everything I have is not enough. [Shakespeare's] plays are better than any actor that's ever done them.
BWW: What are the challenges for you as directors, Kim and Philip?
Philip Lehl: This play calls for about 25 actors. We have 11 actors, so we have the challenge of making the play understandable and entertaining with all the actors playing at least two, if not three, roles. So that's always a challenge, but it's one of the most fun things for me to deal with.
BWW: How do you deal with that?
Kim Tobin-Lehl: This is part of our co-direction together on this piece. [First], marrying Phillip's aesthetic and ability with the language, to speak the language the way that we believe it was meant to be spoken and so that it is the kindest to the ear or the easiest on the ear for the audience. Then also bringing in my aesthetic work with the Sanford Meisner technique. The approach that I take to acting, through the work of Sanford Meisner, is a dedication to truth. That kind of work helps the actors marry these two things so that we have the best possible production. It gives you the highest possible stakes with truthful relationships that are also paying attention to the kind of language being spoken in the most precise, specific way so an audience has a complete, full experience of these stories. [This] is something that we're paying close attention to.
BWW: Luis, you play two characters. One human, one fairy. How do you keep those two characters distinct?
Luis Galindo: Right off the bat, physicalization. It didn't fall into place for me until the blocking and lines were secure in my mind, and I was free to start playing with it. Physically, obviously, it is an easy choice, but they speak differently, they are of different minds, they have different intentions, and they are vastly different people, so it's my job to do something different physically. Shakespeare is giving me everything else I need in the language and in what [the characters] say.
BWW: Can you reveal some of the things you're doing physically?
Luis Galindo: It's nothing too secret. I think of animals and air when I physicalize Oberon. That's how I make it make sense in my mind. There's animalistic, fluid movements. And for the duke, Theseus, I think of a cross somewhere between Ted Knight and George Bush. [Everyone Laughs] Hopefully, it will turn out interesting.
BWW: What productions have you all seen that inspire you?
Philip Lehl: I was in one in college, and I saw one when I was in sixth grade.
BWW: [Laugh] Were you inspired by your sixth grade production?
Philip Lehl: I was so inspired by the productions I saw at my elementary school. They were put on by the sixth grade teacher. I can think of the moment when I realized that I wanted to be an actor. I was in fourth grade and the sixth grade class did TAMING OF THE SHREW. It was hugely powerful for me. It was the moment when Petruchio comes in dressed strangely for his wedding. In that production, and I still remember the actor's name, Rod Ramsay was wearing long johns and nothing else. I couldn't believe it. Everyone was laughing, and it was OK that he was dressed in only long johns. I thought, "There's something special here. I want to do that."
BWW: [Laughs] OK, my final question to wrap it up. Why should we come to this play? Sell it!
Kim Tobin-Lehl: 'Cause it's funny! [Kim Laughs]
Philip Lehl: Because this production will engage the audience and engage the audience's imagination, and make them laugh. Because they will see truthful relationships that they will recognize, and they will suddenly be connected to a genius who lived 450 years ago. They will be directed with his mind and his feelings and his humanity. That's why.
Luis Galindo: How do I follow that? [Laughs] It's funny. There's a lot of really attractive people on stage that are really talented. [Everyone Laughs] I feel really good going home after working, and I want everybody to feel that way when they leave the theater.
Kim Tobin-Lehl: The thing I also love about this play is it reminds you that the world of your dreams and imagination is always accessible to you. I think Shakespeare's trying to tell you it's not really an imaginary play, and that your dreams and imagination enlarge your actual living space. I think that is what Puck's saying at the end of the play. All you have to do is close your eyes, and your world becomes bigger. Carry that with you. I do believe Shakespeare's telling you that your life can be bigger. Dream bigger.
Stark Naked Theatre Company's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, produced in collaboration with the University of Houston, runs from March 5 - March 20 at Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street.
For more information, please visit http://starknakedtheatre.com/.